How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Cats

Cat class is now in session! If you’re a cat owner, listen up because today’s lesson could mean the difference between life and death for your beloved feline. By no fault of their own, most cat owners do not know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on cats. For most of us, knowing how to properly execute a cat Heimlich maneuver has never even crossed our minds.

Cats, by nature, are very independent and self-sustaining creatures. They tend to keep to themselves most of the time and only come into contact with humans when they need something or want attention. Due to this more reserved nature, many cat owners may not pick up on the symptoms that their cat is choking until it is too late. But if the situation ever does arise, it is important to know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a cat quickly and efficiently.

Signs of Choking

Fortunately for cat owners, choking is a rare occurrence and not something most of us have to worry about. However, just because catching your cat choking may be few-and-far-between or perhaps never at all, it is still a good idea to be aware of the signs that your cat may be choking and what behaviors he will exhibit.

If you happen to notice your cat behaving in any of the following ways, a cat Heimlich maneuver may be necessary:

  • You notice your cat pawing at their mouth or drooling
  • Your cat is  excessively coughing or gagging
  • You notice they have increased anxiety or panicked behavior
  • They have labored or struggled breathing
  • If your cat faints, goes unconsciousness, or if their airflow is completely blocked and they are no longer able to breathe at all
  • Bad breath, loss of appetite, or listlessness can also be signs that something has been lodged in their throat for a long period of time. Pieces of a cat toy, tiny bits of splintered bone, and other foreign objects can also potentially get stuck in your cat’s larynx and cause them to choke.

Performing The Heimlich Maneuver

If your cat is unconscious and not breathing, or struggling to breathe, immediately do the following:

  • Open their mouth and pull the tongue forward. If you see a foreign object, carefully try to grab it with your finger. Be careful not to be too aggressive during this time because you wouldn’t want to accidentally push the object further back into their throat.
  • If that doesn’t work, try the cat Heimlich maneuver:
    1. Lay the cat on his side.
    2. Place one hand along his back and put your other hand on his belly, just below the ribs.
    3. With the hand that is on the belly, give several sharp pushes using an inward and upward motion.
    4. Check the mouth for foreign objects and remove them, then close the mouth and give a couple of small breaths through their nose.
    5. Repeat these steps until you are confident there is no foreign object present in your cat’s airway.
    6. If your cat is still not breathing after the foreign object has been removed, check for a heartbeat or pulse. If none can be found, begin CPR as needed and take your cat to the veterinarian immediately.

Once the foreign object has been removed, the healing process usually carries on without a problem. Although, if there was severe damage caused by the object, or if surgery was required, laryngeal paralysis is a possible complication. Laryngeal paralysis in animals is a condition in which the nerves and muscles that control the movements of one or both arytenoid cartilages of the larynx cease to function, and instead of opening during respiration and closing during swallowing, the arytenoids remain stationary in a somewhat neutral position.

Scarring could also cause an abnormal narrowing of their passageway to occur, which could make breathing or swallowing very difficult. If your cat was without oxygen for an extended period of time, that could also cause problems, usually of a neurologic nature, such as cat blindness or mental dullness. Consult with your vet if you think your cat might be suffering from any of these unfortunate results due to the choking incident.

A Note About Strings

If you find a string, such as a thread, piece of tinsel, or yarn- most people have the temptation to pull it out right away, but try not to jump the gun on this one! Unless the string slides easily out of your cat’s mouth like a wet noodle, DO NOT try to pull it out. The reason being- it is likely stuck somewhere inside or could possibly be wrapped around an organ. Attempting to physically remove the string without knowing if it is attached to something could make the situation much worse.

As a pet owner, the more educated you are, the better you can care for your friendly feline.

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